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It’s been said that faith makes possible that which circumstance renders implausible.

In the case of Elizabeth Clarisse Lange, who emigrated from Cuba in the early 1800s to settle in Baltimore, her remarkable faith was matched by an indomitable will and a burning desire to serve those most vulnerable, mainly the young and uneducated. She was on a mission to enlighten the children of French-speaking Catholics who were flooding into Maryland at the time as refugees from the Haitian Revolution.

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Lange, together with her friend and housemate Marie Magdelaine Balas, provided instruction for as many young black children as they could accommodate in their modest Fells Point home. She professed vows and established the first religious order for women of African descent in 1829, and devoted herself to serving the needs of black youth and adults of the city.

Now, in our day and time, the legacy of Mother Mary Lange continues. We of the Archdiocese of Baltimore also recognize that pervasive inequity and inability to access quality education represent among the greatest threats to the realization of young talent and potential. It’s in the spirit of Mother Mary Lange that we are putting our determined efforts and resources in service to the young people of our community by breaking ground for the first Catholic elementary school in the City of Baltimore in nearly six decades.

Named in honor of Mother Mary Lange and slated to open in the fall of 2021, this 21st century, pre-K-8 school will serve students who are currently attending Baltimore’s Holy Angels and Saints James and John Catholic schools. We anticipate offering tuition assistance for between 80 and 90% of what will be a mostly non-Catholic student population which is expected to grow to 520 students in the first five years of operation.

Among the state-of-the-art amenities that will motivate learning and spur ambition in these young people will be art and music rooms, a new library commons and media center, a STEM Lab with makerspace and robotics, a gym and a soccer and lacrosse field with an exercise circuit. The professional staff will number some 35 teachers, teacher-aids and administrators, and will include a full-time counselor as well as medical and dental care professionals and a speech and language clinician.

During the construction of the 66,500 square foot complex representing a $24 million investment by the archdiocese, our contractor, Whiting-Turner, will involve a large contingent of minority and women business owners to bid on the extensive array of services involved with the school’s construction and operation, while also providing low-income city residents opportunities for pre-apprenticeship training programs.

Preparations for the new school have focused on forging extensive community partnerships. The invaluable leadership of the Southwest Partnership, the University of Maryland and Bon Secours, in particular, is helping us to develop strong ties to local community associations, other public schools and other anchor institutions in the area. Going forward, we will continue to assess local community needs and determine how the new school can best serve families in the area.

A drawing of Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, 1784-1882, foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence at the order's high school, St. Frances Academy in East Baltimore. File Photo
A drawing of Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, 1784-1882, foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence at the order's high school, St. Frances Academy in East Baltimore. File Photo (JED KIRSCHBAUM / Baltimore Sun)

Education has been at the core of the Catholic Church’s mission in the United States for more than 200 years, and today some 69 Catholic schools in nine Maryland jurisdictions educate nearly 25,000 students from kindergarten to high school, in addition to the four colleges and universities operated by religious orders that serve nearly 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Parents of all religious backgrounds send their children to our schools because they are safe, academically-excellent and rooted in the Gospel values that transcend religious denominations. Nearly all of our students graduate high school, and the vast majority go on to college and become valued contributors and leaders of their communities.

In prioritizing young lives at risk, we summon all within our communities to nurture and care for those who will determine our future, inasmuch as we make possible their own. It is our sad though unacceptable reality that so many young people of our city are prey to senseless violence and the cruelty of hopelessness. It’s for them, therefore, that we invoke the enduring memory and selfless devotion of Mother Mary Lange, who demonstrated in her time the power to defeat attitudes and conditions that threatened the God-given potential of those many young people in her care. May we all, in our every capacity, commit our constant efforts to doing the same for those now in ours.

William E. Lori is archbishop of Baltimore. He can be reached at communications@archbalt.org.

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